Does Post-Judgment Interest change every six months? (Probably not)

I had an “in-person” court appearance yesterday morning, renewing and extending a judgment from 2011. As a creditor, old judgments can be a gold-mine, as home values have soared in Middle Tennessee, and a well placed judgment lien might have some equity.

Plus, it’s sort of nice to take a trip down memory lane, back to when creditors automatically got 10% interest on their judgments.

As long time readers know, in 2013, they revised the post-judgment interest rate statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121, and switched to a variable (and lower) rate, subject to change every six months.

Yesterday, in my proposed Order Renewing Judgment that I handed up to the Judge, I included language that the renewed judgment would accrue interest “as provided in the original judgment, at the then applicable rate of interest under state law.”

The Judge asked me if that meant that interest was 10% over all of this time (and into the future) or, instead, was it a variable rate, changing each time the rate changes.

Well, Judge, that’s a legal question that drives hundreds of visitors to my creditor rights law blog every year.

The Judge asked me if I had a case or other authority to show whether or not the rate fluctuates. I hadn’t researched it (because it wasn’t really an issue on this unopposed Motion), so the Judge simply crossed out “then existing rate” and wrote in “applicable rate,” which punted the issue down the road.

But, we sort of have an answer, thanks to a local lawyer’s comment on this blog post from early last year:

From the website: “Beginning July 1, 2012, any judgment entered will have the interest set at two percent below the formula rate published by the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions as set in Public Chapter 1043. The rate does not fluctuate and remains in effect when judgment is entered.”

And, no, that’s not a case or a statutory cite. It’s just an introductory paragraph on the Administrative Office of the Courts website. But, it’s something. And, it’s as good as we’ve got for right now. “The rate does not fluctuate and remains in effect when judgment is entered.”

As a practical matter, the best practice would be to always use a specific interest rate in any judgments. Instead of saying post-judgment interest “as provided under Tennessee law” or at the “applicable post-judgment interest rate,” always just say the a specific rate, whether it’s 5.25% or 7.45%. This text would create a presumption of a specific, certain rate of interest going forward.

As more of these Great Recession era judgments come up for renewal and lenders are dusting off these pre-2013 judgments for execution against houses and defendants with drastically changed circumstances, I’m betting that, very soon, this is going to be an issue that a creditor is going to need briefed.

Tennessee Post-Judgment Interest Rate at All-Time Modern High

Once upon a time, computing post judgment interest was really, really easy. But, as you’ll recall from my post in February 2013, Tennessee switched from a flat-rate of 10% to a variable rate under the (then) new version of Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121.

Under that statute, the post judgment interest rate is subject to increase every six months. And, lately, it’s been steadily going up, every six months.

On January 1, 2019, it went up again, to 7.45%.

This is the highest that it’s been, since the statute changed.

7% and Rising: Tennessee’s Post-Judgment Interest Rate Continues to Go Up

About this time last year, I noted that the statutory rate of interest on Tennessee judgments was continuing to increase.  At the time, the rate was 6.25%.

After bumping up to 6.5% in January 2018, it has now risen again to 7.0% (effective July 1, 2018).

As you’ll recall from my post in February 2013, Tennessee switched from a flat-rate of 10% to a variable rate under the (then) new version of Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121.

As a creditor, this is great news. As a creditor lawyer, it’s kind of a pain in the neck.

Now, when I’m asked to prepare a payoff, I have to check the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts website to see what the applicable rate is. Then, for any increases or decreases, I have to adjust my math for that time period.

Tennessee Post-Judgment Rate is at (New) All Time High

More than four years ago, I complained about the (then) new post-judgment interest rates in Tennessee. Long story short, the interest rate on judgments in Tennessee used to be a clean, easy 10%. Under the new version of Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121, judgments accrue interest at a variable rate, that could change every 6 months.

One of my complaints was that it’s so difficult to figure out what the rate is at any time, but, luckily, the statute requires the administrative office of the courts to publish the applicable rate.

So, today’s post is to notify you of this: As of July 1, 2017, the rate is as high as it’s ever been, at a whopping 6.25%.

Post-Judgment Interest Rates in Tennessee Have Finally Increased (by .25%)

Back in July 2012, the Tennessee legislature passed a new “post-judgment” interest statute, which can be found at Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121. As I said back then, it was a big change: Instead of a blanket “10%” rate, Tennessee would be using a variable rate, tied to the “formula rate published by the commissioner of financial institutions.”

Long story short: I hate it when the law replaces something simple with something complicated.

Since the enactment of the statute, the post-judgment interest rate has been 5.25%, until January 1, 2016, when it jumped up to 5.5%.

The sky has not yet fallen, however, like I said it would. My biggest concern was: “[t]here appears to be an obligation to research and modify the rate every six months. Payoffs just got a lot more difficult.” I don’t like math.

After a few years with the statute, I’m of the opinion that the interest rate on a judgment is set at the date of the judgment and then doesn’t change. As a result, there’s no need to track the ups and downs of the statutory rate.

But, to be entirely safe, I always recite the exact post-judgment rate in effect at the time of my judgment in my judgment, to save any confusion and subsequent research.

What I Don’t Like About the New Post-Judgment Interest Rate Statute in Tennessee (Everything)

I am pretty sure that somewhere in the volumes of Creditors Rights 101, I’ve written about the new statute changing the interest rate to be charged on judgments, which went into effect on July 1, 2012. I can’t find it, so here’s a quick primer.

Once upon a time, interest on judgments was simply 10% (here’s a copy of the old statute). The beauty of the old statute was three-fold. One, it was easy math to compute 10% interest. Two, it was a fixed rate and it never changed, making long-term calculations easier. Three, ten percent is a creditor “friendly” rate, so Defendants were motivated to pay off the Judgment or refinance it.

The new statute is Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121.  This statute not only lowers the post-judgment statutory interest rate, but it throws simplicity out the window.

Here’s the relevant text:

…the interest rate on judgments per annum in all courts, including decrees, shall:

(1) For any judgment entered between July 1 and December 31, be equal to two percent (2%) less than the formula rate per annum published by the commissioner of financial institutions, as required by § 47-14-105, for June of the same year; or
(2) For any judgment entered between January 1 and June 30, be equal to two percent (2%) less than the formula rate per annum published by the commissioner of financial institutions, as required by § 47-14-105, for December of the prior year.
Do you see what I mean about the lack of simplicity?Looking at that, can you tell me what the interest rate is?
The legislature must have known that they were going to completely confuse people, because the statute contains a sub-part at Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121 (b) designed to make the math easier:

(b) To assist parties and the courts in determining and applying the interest rate on judgments set forth in subsection (a) for the six-month period in which a judgment is entered, before or at the beginning of each six-month period the administrative office of the courts:

(1) Shall calculate the interest rate on judgments that shall apply for the new six-month period pursuant to subsection (a);
(2) Shall publish that rate on the administrative office of the courts’ website; and
(3) Shall maintain and publish on that website the judgment interest rates for each prior six-month period going back to the rate in effect for the six-month period beginning July 1, 2012.


So, rather than requiring parties to do their own math, the administrative office of the courts will do the math for you and will post the the current (and historical) statutory interest rates to its website. That page of the website can be found here. As of today, the rate is 5.25%.

There’s an “opt-out” in the statute, if the “judgment where a judgment is based on a statute, note, contract, or other writing that fixes a rate of interest within the limits provided in § 47-14-103 for particular categories of creditors, lenders or transactions, the judgment shall bear interest at the rate so fixed.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121 (c).
Here are my concerns:
  • The math got a lot more difficult. Instead of the nice, round 10%, we’re now using a variable rate of 5.25% (as of today).
  • There appears to be an obligation to research and modify the rate every six months. Payoffs just got a lot more difficult.
  • By lowering the rate to a very Defendant friendly 5.25%, the legislature removed some incentive to pay off judgments. Frankly, I wonder if you can get a rate better than 5.25% from your bank. I’d rather pay off VISA at 24% than a judgment creditor.
  • Creditors with oppressively high contract rates will now be motivated to stick with those high rates (24%), rather than cut the Defendant a break and let it default to the statutory rate.
My strategy in response will be to always plead my contract rate of interest in my Complaint and ask that the contract (or default) rate be awarded in my Judgment. Invariably, that rate is going to be higher than 5.25%, and that rate will not require modifications every six months.
A final note, keep in mind that the legislature did not modify Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-123, which sets the pre-judgment rate of interest at 10%.